By Charlie Widdoes (Twitter)
Before yesterday, the last time we saw Iman Shumpert in a practice jersey was the day of Game 6 in Indianapolis. That was when I began to understand the intensity that separates him from almost every other human being on the planet.
It was a second-round playoff shootaround, yes, but a shootaround nonetheless, and he was a man possessed. As his team walked through the gameplan and competed in shooting contests that are, by nature, meant to be fun, he was barking out motivational commands in the third person -- "LET'S GO SHUMP!" -- that left his teammates with a mix of confusion, amusement, and ultimately, awe.
Coaches often implore their players to practice with game intensity, but that’s just not an issue for Shump. His team was on the brink of elimination, and he was teetering on the verge of combustion from an insatiable desire to win.
As we know, the Knicks came up just short that night, but thanks to his part in a wild third quarter rally, they nearly forced a Game 7 back at Madison Square Garden.
Perhaps because of the final outcome -- the Pacers, not the Knicks, advancing to the next round to face the Heat – his performance that night gets lost in the shuffle. But in those six minutes and 32 seconds of game time, the defensive-minded Shump found the zone, scoring 16 points in a flash, including four three-pointers.
For those of us who saw him in practice seven hours earlier, it all began to make sense. He had prepared for the biggest moment of his career by practicing like there was no tomorrow. Win or lose, there was no question that the young man who’d battled to return as fast as possible from knee surgery had left it all on the court.
“I had an AWESOME summer,” he said at Monday’s Media Day. He said it in a way that only people who work as hard as he does can -- that whole thing about the sweet never being as sweet without the sour.
When a reporter asked him about the 25 points he scored in that Game 6 (he actually finished with 19), he said that he wished he’d scored that many points and, more importantly, “that we’d won.”
After lockout-related complications, along with the knee injury, forced him to endure two full calendar years of the nickname "Rook" from his veteran teammates, he's becoming one of the more vocal members of the team in front of our eyes. This was on display when he cleared up another reporter's misconception on Monday.
"I don’t love defense," was his response to a question about his reputation as a defense-first player. "I just want to score so, so bad that I’m willing to snatch the ball out of your hands. That’s what defense is about...When I play defense, I play defense with my heart, and with my passion, because I want that ball."
He also spoke about "everyone in the locker room being more aggressive" this year, and how that can rub off on each other. What he didn't say, but what has become abundantly clear, is that his approach has become a big part of what the Knicks want to do. Whether he knows it or not, it will be up to him, entering his third year in the NBA, to set the tone for his teammates on many occasions. Just like he did that day in Indy last May.
"I’m healthy going into this year and I plan on my teammates being able to expect a certain level of competitiveness, expect me to bring more to the table."
As he battled Carmelo Anthony in a three-point shooting competition after Tuesday's practice, you couldn't help but have flashbacks. The intensity, and the third-person shouts -- "PUT THE PRESSURE ON HIM SHUMP!" -- were in playoff form. Looking forward to a long season, you have to wonder how it's possible to keep this up. But he'll figure out how to preserve himself.
He's a vet now.